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Introduction to the Special Issue on Migrations in Slavic, Tsarist Russian and Soviet History

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image of Journal of Migration History

Migration in Rus’-land, Tsarist Russia and Soviet history received little attention before 1986. Since the 2000s interest has intensified. This issue of the Journal of Migration History provides a synopsis of the continuity as well as multiplicity of migrations from the sixth to the nineteenth century and case studies of different migrations from the late nineteenth century to the 1990s. Migration of state-backed Slavic-speaking peasants in the late nineteenth century into Kazakhs’ grazing lands disrupted the way-of-life of the herders and acerbated class relations between increasingly wealthy and increasingly poor herders. In Tsarist society as a whole, the regime deprived dissidents of ways of expression and encouraged pogroms against Jewish families and communities. Many of those who fled made their way to London and other safe havens. In Parliament, and among the British public in general, a sometimes acrimonious debate about immigration restrictions began. A 1905 anti-alien law kept the door open for political refugees but closed it to impoverished migrants. In wartime after 1914 and far more so after 1941 the state evacuated people before advancing armies and deported others, perceived to be disloyal. In this respect, the change from Tsarist to Bolshevik rule in its Stalinist version was no break – but the much larger quantity of people being moved around led to a new quality: authorities lost sight or interest in distinguishing evacuees from deportees. When, in the late 1950s, control relaxed, young people began to migrate on their own for a limited period of time. The limichiki faced exploitative hiring factories but often supportive state authorities. When glasnost changed the labour regime under neo-liberalist policies, the status of the temporary workers declined. The Tsarist-Soviet/Stalinist-post-1986 sequence of regimes encouraged, hindered or prohibited, and organised a vast variety of free, unfree, and forced labour migrations that were, in part at least, ways of life.

Affiliations: 1: Emeritus Arizona State University, formerly Universität Bremen


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